When Only You See the Dead People: An Interview with Matthew Taylor

I first met Matthew Taylor, Vice President of Information Technology at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, several years back when we were both working for the Catholic Health Initiatives national office of Population Health. It was a new team charged with starting and leading a transformation to a new Population Health model across the CHI enterprise of over 100 hospitals/markets across country. One of my very first impressions of him would be one I would see play out over and over. Matthew was the one on the team that was always throwing out a new idea from something he read, saw, or experienced.

He was (and is), using his own words, “relentlessly intentional” about exposing himself to new ideas to challenge himself. And he loves to challenge those around him with all of those learnings! As an example, he excitedly shares, “Just last week I worked from the local art museum just to gain a new perspective by working in a new environment to try to generate new ideas and… it worked!” It is our first clue that we are experiencing a BOLD leader in action.

Having Curiosity, Confidence, Trust AND Empathy

Matthew is curious, the first attribute of a BOLD leader. He admits that he likely drove his mother crazy asking question after question and his Mom saying, “Stop asking so many questions!” Now, in reflection, Matthew notes that being curious about everything was “wired” in him from a very early age and continues to surface every day of his life.

In finding his confidence, the second attribute of a BOLD leader, Matthew was reminded of many life experiences that helped him grow that confidence as a leader, including growing up in a military family deployed to Germany and having a Dad that thought living in another country meant exploring/experiencing everything you can about that culture. These adventures left an imprint of “try new things” from an early age. Accepting an IT consulting job in Australia and taking that leap of faith to leave for that job 72 hours after taking it, is another example. And then there is the raising of twins and being amazed at how the two of them can work together to get into so much trouble!

Trust is a third critical component. Matthew’s perspective on trust starts from within, reflecting that he “naturally trusts people” and in turn his sincere trust “allows others to trust me.” Matthew connects that trust to both personal and organization influences, which makes this a very well-rounded skill for him. His faith is a grounding and focusing force, and his belief that “For whom much is given, much will be expected” (Luke 12:48) is his foundation for starting each day as a blessing and draws others to him. He also passionately connects this attribute of trust to his organization and the leadership of Excellus, saying that he is fortunate to work in a corporate culture that has seven clear core values that match his own. He also appreciates being led by a CEO “that I am blown away by how he personally lives those values as he leads our organization.” Matthew feels fortunate to have that in his daily work life.

Empathy is the fourth core attribute of BOLD leadership, and Matthew admits this has been the hardest to develop. So, what got him there? Having a family and “trying to be present for them” helped him develop skills in this area that he finds translate well to his professional role

Helping Others Push Through Difficult Challenges

Matthew is a believer in people, and his first statement on this topic is true to him: “Most people just want someone who sincerely believes in them and will push them toward the next step that is needed, and I try to be that person.” He then leaps into an example to help me understand this (always helping others learn). Back to his “relentlessly intentional” curiosity, he tells me about one of his favorite movies, “We Bought a Zoo,” starring Matt Damon. He describes the scene (and later sends me the video clip!) when the mantra “20 Seconds of Courage” was revealed and how he tries to use that to help others have “20 Seconds of Courage” as they face difficult issues. He is helping others be confident as they explore new ideas. He is passionate about the concept and within minutes I am convinced that having 20 seconds of courage is a great mantra to adopt myself.

He admits he is drawn to ambiguity and things that others might steer clear of, but his thought is always, “I can’t make it any worse, so why not try something different?” He helps others come on that journey with him as they try to make change and is most often the one in the room asking the group, “What have we NOT tried yet?” An example arose early in his role at Excellus BCBS, when Matthew inherited a project already underway that the project team all felt needed to be pulled back. Matthew led the team using one of the organization’s core values of “open and honest conversations.” In the end the team was able to speak up and recommend the project go in a different direction. This brought the team closer together as they navigated a difficult challenge and as a result reinforced the corporate value of hearing the team when they provide open and honest feedback.

You See Dead People, Too?

BOLD leaders are rare and often have difficulty finding others like themselves in their lives. When I asked Matthew if he agreed with that statement, he led with, “I totally agree!” He then told a story that happened early in his career while working at Kaiser Permanente when one of his peers said to him one day, “Matthew, you see dead people.” At first, he was taken aback by this reference out of the “The Sixth Sense” movie. His peer went on to say that what he meant was that “I was different in the way I see and do things.” After pausing and taking that feedback in from his peer, Matthew realized that was exactly right! He does think and see things differently than others around him (and always has!). Over time Matthew has embraced this difference and now says with confidence that “seeing dead people is a great thing!”

Matthew’s BOLD story is one of remaining “relentlessly intentional” even when you are the only one “seeing dead people.” How do you make transformational change in your work even when others might not be seeing it the way you do?